A few favorites: Sedum, mums, ornamental grasses, Japanese Maples, sourwood hydrangea and more.
To get the most out of autumn’s golden tones, Jennifer DiNovo, landscape designer and co-owner of Design Works, said it pays to plan ahead.
“Don’t just go and buy five different things at Home Depot that look really nice right now. It needs some thought,” she said.
When shopping for fall flowers, it’s worth it to consider whether those blooms will be around three weeks from now, for example.
“A lot of these plants, they look great for the next couple of weeks, but then they’re going to be losing their leaves. So that’s when you want to incorporate seasonal things,” DiNovo said.
This time of year, a succulent called autumn joy sedum will turn a deep pink as cooler weather approaches and can serve as garden edging.
“All kinds of sedum are wonderful. Autumn joy is a popular one, but they have a gazillion varieties of the ground sedum,” she said.
And while mums are a favorite this time of year for their compact size and vibrant blooms, DiNovo said there are other fall annuals and perennials to consider.
“Fall is a great time to enjoy the traditional annual flowers that withstand the cold but add a touch of earthy tones and warmth. Fall mums, kale, cabbage, and ornamental grasses, such as the Karl Foerster grass, are traditional New England favorites. Some of our fall favorite perennial combinations include perennial grasses, (with) New England asters, Joe Pye Weed, and the witch hazel,” she added.
Watching trees turn gold, red and orange is a staple activity in New England, so why not have a few of those beauties in your backyard if you have the room?
“Trees like Japanese maples, hydrangea trees and the sourwood are looking fantastic right now. The sourwood, a medium-sized ornamental tree, is bright green in the spring, then the leaves become darker and eventually have a shiny, red/burgundy fall color. The fall fruit is interesting and lasts into the late fall,” DiNovo said in the email.
Weeping beech and Japanese maple trees can turn orange or copper; in addition, the silvery branches of the weeping beech can be a nice touch during winter.
Besides choosing your favorite fall blooms and trees, DiNovo said gardeners should also remember the fundamentals, like plant groupings and calculating how much room they’ll need to grow. But not giving a shrub enough space could also sabotage the plant and the space around it.
“The most common thing I hear from people is, ‘This looked really great when it went in … but it’s so overgrown now and I just want to rip it out and do it over.’ So it’s just picking appropriate plant species that are appropriately sized; knowing your home and knowing your garden, and establishing a plan for it,” she said.
This designer recommends thinking in threes.
“Common fundamental practices are groupings of three and/or an individual shrub. A grouping of three is very nice. Sometimes I will do an interesting specimen and I’ll put two of one thing on either side to frame that interesting shrub or tree; or I’ll do an interesting tree with at least three perennials in front of it, almost in a triangle.”
Putting larger groups of the same plant together can also have a grand effect.
“For a big impact of fall color, fall shrubs can be massed together. For example, the gro-low sumac is a small native shrub that is appealing as a ground cover in sunny areas because of its glossy green leaves and spectacular orangeish-red fall color,” said DiNovo, adding that the sumac is easy to grow and can handle tough soils.
“It looks fabulous in a mass planting (about six or more), is a good foreground/groundcover shrubs and is great on slope applications,” she continued.
If there’s one shrub you really like but you don’t have a lot of space, DiNovo said maybe a smaller variety of that shrub will do the trick.
“A Limelight hydrangea is a pretty darn big shrub. It’s a wonderful garden hydrangea and it’s pretty easy to grow. It’s a 6-to-8 by a 6-to-8-foot shrub, which is pretty large. You might be more appropriate going with the Little Lime, which is another variety, which only gets 3-to-4 by 3-to-4. So it’s just being very cognizant of what you’re buying and when you’re putting it in.”
It also helps to consider how much room the shrub will need in the future.
“That’s a very common fundamental thing, to think about mature sizes of things — giving shrubs room to grow, layering appropriately, adding in specimens, too.”
For those with a smaller budget, DiNovo has a clever solution: mix more, less expensive, what she calls “economy” plants, with maybe one or two higher-priced plants for a special effect.
“I like to have a couple of nice decent-sized specimens that are interesting right off the bat. Then you put the rest of your money toward interesting fillers. So your economy plants fill in the space, but when they’re organized well, they make a bigger impact for a lower cost,” she said.
She suggests adding mid-level-priced shrubs like rhododendron or other broadleaf evergreens with “premium-level” plants like weeping beech or evergreens. Economy plants like ornamental grasses, daylilies like Stella de Oro, and a catmint called Junior Walker can fill in some bare spots. Other good choices are Bobo hydrangea and salvia, which blooms from summer through fall.
Fall nights in New England can get frosty. So DiNovo recommends other outdoor elements like a fire pit, which are a hugely popular solution for warming up your space.
“Fall has got to be the most perfect time to relax outdoors on a patio and next to a fire pit. Placing ornamental trees around a patio space is a great way to enjoy the seasons,” DiNovo said.
And don’t forget it’s bulb season; planting dozens of tulips in the fall can be a fun activity.
“Bulbs are out now for sale and ready to be planted. They are simple to plant with your family and provide something to look forward to after a long winter,” DiNovo said.
Design Works is at 125 Wason Road in Hudson. Call 864-8646 or visit www.4designworks.com for more information.